What is a Hot Pot Not? A Bad Pot! It’s Hot Pot, Leicester Square

08 Oct 2017

Audience participation is something I’ve always hated, I’ve never been one to shout ‘it’s behind you’, or stand up and clap at the finale, so being asked to participate in making my own dinner at a restaurant filled me with the same antique-anxiety as hearing “right now boys and girls, I’m going to need your help”.

The atmosphere is spot on inside, unlike its neon neighbours, it’s not home to red lanterns or dragons with more legs than teeth. It’s decorated with sophisticated furnishings and dim lighting. However, spotting the induction hob on each table made the reality of the situation really hit home; we were actually doing this. S***.

Thankfully the menu came with instructions because my date for the evening and I were both feeling overwhelmed and a little confused: choose your broth, choose your ingredients, help yourself to the spice bar. Ok, got it, kind of.

The ethos of Hot Pot is all about slow dining and eating as a community from one pot, I wasn’t sure how well it would work considering one of us is a vegetarian (him) and one of us is very much not (me). Some would call it grounds for divorce, but I’m far too stubborn to leave it at that, and luckily I enjoy vegetarian food. Well, let’s not beat around the bush; I enjoy all food.

He went for the vegetarian broth (obviously), made with shiitake, bamboo mushrooms, spring onion and I went for the clear soup made with ginger, spring onion, Chinese dates and sweetcorn (£8 each).

These arrived at the table-cum-kitchen appliance in a silver saucepan split (almost) down the middle, along with baskets of ingredients we’d picked from the 60 items on the menu. We tipped these into the broth bubbling on the hob between us, drowning each item like they’d done something wrong.

In hindsight, these should probably be added as you go, as what was perfectly flaky and soft salmon (£9.50), by the second serving became a little chewy. The spinach (£4.50), Pak Choi (£4.50) Bamboo shoots (£4.50), noodles (£4.50) and fried tofu (£4.50) cooked nicely though, standing the test of the time.

There were a few disappointing mouthfuls taken until we both got the hang of the spice bar filled with garlic, sauces and chillies. We mixed these into our hot pots until we were content with the flavour and heat. The chilli bean paste trumped the rest, giving a hint of sweetness, rather than the Korean Sauce which was so spicy it required some sort of rehabilitation process with the house Pinot Grigio (£20) to enjoy the rest of the food.

If you’re a really fussy eater then this is the place for you, you can pick item by item exactly what you want from your meal and you know it’s fresh. They can’t get away with wilted cabbage, or any mutton dressed as lamb, it is what it says on the tin, you know what you’re getting; you’re staring it straight in the face.

The concept is fun and the staff are fab, but I’m still confused – do we congratulate the chef? Surely the meal I ate was all my own doing? Maybe I should skip the praise and just give myself a pat on the back.

So, would I go again? Yeah, certainly, if it wasn’t for the fear that next time they might also want me to participate in the washing up.


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